The Early Edition: November 1, 2017

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

NEW YORK TERROR ATTACK

A man driving a truck hit pedestrians and cyclists in Manhattan yesterday killing eight and wounding eleven in what officials have described as a terrorist attack, the police have identified the attacker as 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov. Benjamin Mueller, William K. Rashbaum and Al Baker report at the New York Times.

A video from the scene shows that the attacker emerged from the truck with what appeared to be handguns, and some witnesses said he shouted “Allahu akbar” meaning “God is great” in Arabic. Renae Merle, Devlin Barrett, Wesley Lowery, Rachel Siegel and Samantha Schmidt report at the Washington Post.

The police shot and injured the suspect as he left the vehicle, a senior law enforcement has said that a note claimed that the attack was done in the name of the Islamic State group. Shimon Prokupecz, Eric Levenson, Brynn Gingras and Steve Almasy report at CNN.

“We must not allow I.S.I.S. to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!” Trump tweeted after the attack using the acronym for the Islamic State group, adding in a later tweet that he had ordered Homeland Security “to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program.” Cristiano Lima reports at POLITICO.

The suspected attacker is an Uzbek immigrant who lived in Paterson and, according to a law enforcement official, had a green card. Corey Kilganion and Joseph Goldstein provide information about Saipov’s background at the New York Times.

The attack has brought a terrorist tactic that has been used in Europe to the U.S. and “vigilance and cooperation are the two indispensable tools in ensuring that the terrorist’s world remain abnormal,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

We must acknowledge the tragic loss of life but also worry how our leaders respond because terrorism thrives on provoking an overreaction and a misstep could feed into narratives that undermine the U.S.’s security. Joshua Geltzer writes at Just Security.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The plea deal submitted by former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos suggests that the Trump campaign pursued efforts to acquire hacked emails from Russian contacts in the spring of 2016 to harm presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, before the public were aware of the hacking of Democratic Party systems. Shane Harris reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Papadopoulos was dismissed by Trump as a “low level volunteer” however documents and interviews show that he was in regular contact with senior Trump campaign officials and there has been no indication that senior campaign officials told Papadopoulos directly to halt his efforts to set up a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin or to stop presenting himself as a Trump surrogate during meetings with foreign officials. Rosalind S. Helderman, Karen DeYoung and Tom Hamburger report at the Washington Post.

The London-based academic Joseph Mifsud has been suspected of being the link between Papadopoulos and the Russian government and told a business contact in April 2016 that Russia held information on Clinton. Nic Robertson and Hilary Clarke report at CNN.

The Trump campaign’s senior policy adviser Sam Clovis has been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 U.S. election, Clovis appointed Papadopoulos as a foreign policy adviser to the campaign in March 2016 and has been identified in the Papadopoulos plea as the “campaign supervisor.” Rebecca Ballhaus and Del Quentin Wilbur report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Dr. Clovis always vigorously opposed any Russian trip for Donald Trump or staff,” the lawyer for Clovis said yesterday, adding that her client did not dispute the fact that he was the campaign supervisor to Papadopoulos but that “if a volunteer made suggestions on any foreign policy matter, Dr. Clovis, a polite gentleman from Iowa, would have expressed courtesy and appreciation.” Sarah N. Lynch and Mark Hosenball report at Reuters.

The Trump campaign “voluntarily provided” Mueller with emails involving Papadopoulos, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, Reuters reporting.

Mueller’s team is set to interview Trump’s longtime aide and the current White House communications director Hope Hicks in mid-November, according to sources familiar with the matter, an administration official also said that several current White House officials are expected to be interviewed as early as this week. Annie Karni and Josh Dawsey report at POLITICO.

Several Trump allies have sought to persuade the president to take a tougher approach to Mueller by damaging the investigation’s credibility and cutting its funding, however Trump’s lawyers and advisers have insisted that this would not be an option and Trump has, so far, resisted calls to be more aggressive. Philip Rucker and Robert Costa report at the Washington Post.

Several Republican senators said yesterday that they would not cut funding to Mueller’s investigation amid calls from some Republicans for the investigation to be curtailed or redirected to ongoing investigations into Russian interference. Karoun Demirjian and Sean Sullivan report at the Washington Post.

Representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday where they were questioned about Russia-linked social media accounts, the social media companies publicly acknowledged their role in the Russia’s online campaign during the presidential election but were reluctant to offer concrete action on regulating political content on their platforms. Cecila Kang, Nicholas Fandos and Mike Isaac report at the New York Times.

Senators asked why social media companies had not done more to understand the extent of Russian use of their online platforms, including the buying of election ads bought using Russian rubles. Ali Breland reports at the Hill.

Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch described how a Russian troll farm focused on “fomenting discord about the validity of [Trump’s] election” after Nov. 8, agreeing with Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) assessment that during the election the focus was mostly on undermining Clinton and this shifted once Trump won the election. Nancy Scola and Ashley Gold report at POLITICO.

A bipartisan election cybersecurity bill was introduced yesterday amid evidence of Russian influence in the 2016 election, Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.

A feature on Andrew Weissmann, a key lawyer in Mueller’s team, is provided by Matt Flegenheimer at the New York Times.

The Papadopoulos guilty plea has made firing Mueller more difficult, and taking such action, as has been advised by some Trump allies, would spark a political crisis. Katie Bo Williams provides an analysis at the Hill.

The links between Trump’s foreign policy advisers and Russia have created issues for the president, Matthew Rosenberg, Sharon LaFraniere and Matt Apuzzo provide an overview of the advisers at the New York Times.

The attacks on Mueller by the president and his allies “could yet lead to a constitutional crisis” as they spread ridiculous conspiracy theories that undermine the investigation and the rule of law, removing Mueller would “send the message that Mr. Trump and his aides are accountable to no one.” The New York Times editorial board writes.

The five key points about the Russian online campaign to spread disinformation before and after the 2016 U.S. election are set out by Georgia Wells and Natalie Andrews at the Wall Street Journal.

While Putin’s online campaign may have had short-term success the Kremlin’s actions have prompted the U.S. government to investigate Russia’s attempts to manipulate U.S. politics, consequently sending a message to the world about Russia’s interference campaigns. However, the question now is whether Russia would respond by being more aggressive in its cyber-operations? David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

The State Department should considers its policy on Facebook, public diplomacy and accountability in light of the Russian interference campaign and other online propaganda campaigns across the world, the former deputy assistant secretary for digital strategy at the State Department Moira Whelan writes at Foreign Policy.

NORTH KOREA

The U.S. has been quietly pursuing direct diplomacy with North Korea through the so-called “New York channel,” a senior U.S. negotiator at the State Department, Joseph Yun, said yesterday, claiming that he has been in contact with diplomats at North Korea’s U.N. Mission. Arshad Mohammed and Matt Spetalnick reveal at Reuters.

A U.S. military exercise involving three aircraft carriers near the Korean Peninsula is scheduled to take place during Trump’s two-week trip to Asia starting at the end of this week, according to defense officials, the maneuvers would send a strong signal to North Korea amid heightened tensions. Jonathan Cheng and Nancy A. Youssef report at the Wall Street Journal.

South Korea would not “develop or possess nuclear weapons,” South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in told parliament today, saying that the joint agreement between the North and South on denuclearization also sets out that “North Korea’s nuclear state cannot be accepted or tolerated.” Adam Taylor reports at the Washington Post.

China and South Korea would work together using diplomatic means to work towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a statement from China’s foreign ministry said today, Reuters reporting.

Trump will not visit the demilitarized zone (D.M.Z.) between North and South Korea during his trip to Asia, according to a senior administration official who cited time constraints. Reuters reports.

The U.S. Treasury has pushed for countries in the Persian Gulf to take a tougher line against North Korea by taking measures to improve financial oversight and scaling back on the use of North Korean labor, which analysts say number between 5,000 and 10,000. Ian Talley and Nicolas Parasie report at the Wall Street Journal.

IRAN

“Today, the range of our missiles, as the policies of Iran’s supreme leader dictate, are limited to 2,000 kilometers,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari said yesterday, possibly sending a message that Iran’s missile program is for defensive purposes in contrast to North Korea’s missile program which poses a threat to the U.S.. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

The 2,000 kilometer range “is enough for the Islamic Republic as most of the U.S. forces and most of their interests in the region are within this range,” Jafari also said yesterday, Reuters reporting.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to arrive in Tehran today for talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Syrian war is set to feature prominently in discussions. Zein Basravi reports at Al Jazeera.

SYRIA

Russia will host a forum on Nov. 18 aimed at reaching a political settlement in Syria, the head of Russia’s delegation to the Syria talks in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana said yesterday, the AP reports.

Syria’s Kurds have been invited to the November forum, a senior Kurdish official said yesterday, adding that the Kurds are “studying the issue and our stance has been positive so far.” Ellen Francis reports at Reuters.

Turkey would not accept the inclusion of Syria’s Kurdish Y.P.G. militia in peace talks, a spokesperson for President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said today, Reuters reporting.

“We have approximately … I think it’s a little over 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria right now,” Army Maj. Gen. James Jarrard told reporters yesterday, and quickly retracted the figure as the Pentagon officially insists that 503 U.S. soldiers have been deployed to support efforts against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Russia has been running the show at the Astana talks and they see a role for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the country, Imran Khan observes at Al Jazeera.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out four airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on October 30. Separately, partner forces conducted four strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAQ

Iraqi federal forces prepared to take control of the semiautonomous Kurdistan region’s border crossings with Turkey and Syria yesterday, amid raised tensions between Iraq’s central government and Iraqi Kurdistan which have been high since September’s controversial referendum where Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence. The BBC reports.

The Iraqi army deployed troops to one of the main land crossings with Turkey taking the position which has been controlled by Kurds since the before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Ahmed Rasheed, Ercan Gurses and Raya Jalabi report at Reuters.

A map showing the territory Iraqi Kurdistan has lost since the independence referendum is provided by Alia Chugtai at Al Jazeera.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov yesterday and, according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, they discussed the Islamic State group’s impending defeat in Syria, the threat posed by North Korea, Ukraine, and improving U.S.-Russia relations. Josh Delk reports at the Hill.

The U.S. will vote against the U.N. resolution condemning the U.S. embargo on Cuba, the State Department said yesterday, reversing the U.S. decision in 2016 to abstain from the vote. Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.

The U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost over $1.2tn over the next 30 years, according to an independent report by the Congressional Budget Office. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

A complicated set of factors have contributed to the destabilization of countries in the Sahel region and the Trump administration has no strategy to deal with the problems blighting countries like Niger. Thomas L. Friedman writes at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least seven people were killed by a teenage suicide bomber in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul yesterday inside the heavily guarded diplomatic quarter, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack. Craig Nelson, Ehsanullah Amiri and Habib Khan Totakhil report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Palestinian militant Hamas group has handed over administrative control of five border crossings in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank as part of an Egypt-brokered deal agreed Oct. 12, marking a significant development since the factions split in 2007. Linah Alsaafin reports at Al Jazeera.

A military judge at Guantánamo yesterday scheduled a contempt hearing following the decision of three civilian defense lawyers to quit the U.S.S. Cole case. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald. 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK